The No. 1 UConn women’s basketball team will begin a stretch of three games in five days by taking on No. 20 California on Friday night at Gampel Pavilion. The five-day period will also include a home game against No. 15 Maryland and a long road trip to play No. 8 UCLA.
“Not ideal, not exactly what we wanted,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said of the difficult stretch. “We wanted it to be a little more spread out, obviously… But it’s early in the season and we have to figure out a way to manage it. It’s a good test for our guys, it really is.”
UConn junior Katie Lou Samuelson and the rest of the players understand the difficulty of this stretch and look forward to the challenge. Samuelson and the other leaders in the Huskies’ locker room have experience playing nonconference games like this and know what it takes to get through them.
“Staying engaged, especially because these three games are three big games,” Samuelson said of the key to success this week. “You can’t take any of these opponents lightly. So making sure we’re ready and sharp for each game, and once that one ends, you have to forget about it and move on.”
The Huskies are coming off a convincing 78-53 win over then-No. 10 Stanford in their first game on Sunday. With five days off ahead of this weekend, the Huskies are mentally and physically preparing for the three tough opponents in quick succession.
“We’re just gonna be all basketball all the time right now,” UConn senior Gabby Williams said. “We had a good two days off after Stanford to kind of have to ourselves, but now we just gotta be ready to go 100 percent of the time.”
Friday night’s game will be UConn’s home opener, where the Huskies have fared well in recent years. Under Auriemma, UConn is 31-1 in its first home game, including 24 straight wins.
Cal (1-0) is led by 6-foot-4 junior center Kristine Anigwe, who scored 15 of her 17 points in the second half of the Bears’ season-opening win over Saint Mary’s. Anigwe was named to the Preseason Top 30 for the John R. Wooden Award, given to the most outstanding women’s college basketball player in the country.
“(Anigwe) is just an aggressive kid, she plays hard around the basket, she chases rebounds and she attacks the basket,” Auriemma said. “And they run a lot of stuff through her, so it’s not an easy task… It’s gonna be a tough matchup.”
The Huskies are 3-1 all-time against Cal, including three straight wins. The two schools haven’t met since 2013, when UConn defeated Cal 80-47 in New York. The lack of familiarity is a challenge for both teams, but Auriemma knows the Bears will be ready.
“I’m sure they have a better idea of what we’re gonna do than we have of what they’re gonna do,” Auriemma said.
Friday’s game will be preceded by a short ceremony for “Lobo Night,” where UConn legend Rebecca Lobo will have her Hall of Fame banner unveiled from the Gampel Pavilion rafters. The ceremony will begin at 7 p.m., with tip-off between UConn and Cal following shortly after.
Josh Buser is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.